Finance/Accounting 101: Fixed and Variable Costs

Fixed Expense (Finance/Accounting): Are expenses that remain the same over time (Apptio, 2018; Investopedia, n.d.a.).  If you have a gym membership, you are charged a flat membership fee each and every period.  Thus, you know how much you can and should budget for.

Variable Expense (Finance/Accounting): Are expenses that change over time (Apptio, 2018; Investopedia, n.d.b.).  A great example is for those people who don’t have unlimited talk, text and data plan on their cell phone.  Given that we are measuring the exact minutes we spend each month talking, or the amount of text we send or receive, or how much data we download, this person’s cell phone bill will be variable. Here, you don’t know how much you can budget for.  Things happen.

Variable expense isn’t necessarily bad nor is fixed expenses good.  It depends on context, asset, service, etc.  Therefore, one should regularly evaluate their budget and see if what they have as fixed or variable expenses are justified. The benefit of a variable expense is you have the most leverage on how much you can consume or spend, giving you greater control over your budget rather than a fixed expense.  This leverage gives you budget flexibility (Apptio, 2018).

A healthy budget would take into account fixed and variable costs and will have an appropriate mix of the two.


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